What is NLP?
Dr Phil Parker,
PhD Psychology of Health, Certified Master Trainer of NLP
One common way to describe NLP is as the missing manual on how to use your brain, and that’s quite a good starting point for something as interesting and easy to grasp as NLP, in spite of its long sounding name.
Let’s break down the initials first, then we’ll come back to the idea of it being ‘a manual for the brain’.
Neurolinguistic Programming, the complex official name of NLP, stands for
Neuro: how we use our nervous system- how we think, decide, behave and control our body and life.
Linguistic: the importance of our language and communication. The words that form our thoughts and internal conversations, our conversations with others and how our language affects our nervous system.
Programming: how we seem to sometimes think, decide and behave in habitual ways that are often not very useful to us and cause us problems.
And that brings us back to the manual for the brain. How often have you seen someone doing some type of thinking or behaviour that was clearly going to cause them trouble? Maybe we’ve even done the same ourselves? Often, we even notice we’re doing it, but still find it tricky to stop. NLP can provide some great solutions for getting back in charge of your brain.
How change happens
NLP is one of those things that becomes clearer with practical exploration, so let’s begin with a couple of fun exercises.
Start by answering this question: ‘Without writing it down, say your postcode (or your ZIP code) backwards?’.
When we try and answer that question a very interesting set of things occur. For most people, it’s an unfamiliar task. We can recall it forwards but it’s rare to be asked for it backwards. As we have no well-rehearsed brain pathways for this task, to come up with the answer we have to create some new ones. And you may notice initially it can be a bit of a struggle at first. Many people find themselves drawing it in the air just in front of them, trying to see it backwards.
It feels like a very clunky machine trying to process something and initially for most people we are not very successful at doing it. It’s very stuttering, it’s slow, it’s a little bit unreliable and you can feel the energy that is being expended in trying to make that happen. Try this out on your friends, when you do you will see their eyes flickering around, their body almost contorting as they try and drag this information out. And because NLP is fascinated about change it is really useful to experience what change, int his case creating new pathways, feels like.
Now repeat this exercise until you find it easy to say your postcode backwards. Normally it takes most people about 4 to 10 times, but after repeating it enough times you suddenly find that you can quite fluently repeat your postcode backwards.
And at that point, you’ve not only new neurological pathways but ones that are now quite reliable. This is an example of how change can happen rapidly, and this of key interest to NLP.
This is because one of the main focuses of NLP the process of modelling. Modelling is the process of working out how to do something well. It can be seen in other disciplines like computing or design, where creating a new car, for example, involves starting with a rough idea of what will work, fine-tuning and testing it (in a wind tunnel with a small-scale model, then prototypes on test tracks).
NLP models how well people do this and is interested in both top performers (great athletes, people who can be motivated, can spell well, find change easy, etc.) and those who seem to consistently not get the results they want in some area of their life (those who are always late, can’t get up in the morning, find public speaking difficult, find change etc.). Understanding how their neurology and their linguistic patterns create these results allows the skilled NLP practitioner to develop a model of what processes have caused those results and then either teach others the successful models of peak performers or help those not getting results to break free of their old patterns.
Is change easy or hard?
Some people say that change takes a long time, it takes a long time for the brain to learn or ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ and yet there are lots of examples where that’s just not true.
When someone founds clear evidence that their friend or partner is not quite who pretended to be (maybe they’ve just discovered them lying or cheating for example) – how long does it take for the feelings of trusting to change? -milliseconds. So change can happen in a moment and yet we’ve all observed people who are stuck with problems they have had for years that don’t seem to change. So what’s missing?
What’s missing are effective models of how change works a way to teach tools developed from those models to make that change possible. The compassionate and experienced use of the skills of NLP can provide these. And when that happens change can suddenly appear to be so much easier than it ever did before.
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